Why Philly Matters: Ribbons in the Skyline

Springsteen famously sang about the streets of Philadelphia, but our most stunning achievement lies a bit higher. Touring the city’s breathtaking, sadly unheralded architecture, CAMILLE PAGLIA offers a simple piece of advice: Look up, people


MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE spot in the city is the corner of Juniper and Locust streets. On one side is a massive and brutally coarse concrete parking garage. Across the intersection is a commercial cleaner’s, occupying the ground floor of a lovely Victorian townhouse, which along with its neighbor boasts tall brick chimneys, dormers, bay windows, and charming Tudor overhangs. Across Juniper from the garage is a splendid residence designed in 1890 by Philadelphia architect Wilson Eyre Jr. for Clarence B. Moore. Its rusticated (rough stone) Italian Renaissance base is combined with round, pointy-roofed château towers, gargoyles, and Moorish-Gothic arched windows. The stone porch is carved with dolphins and heraldic medallions. Attached to it next door is a startlingly different design by Eyre — a red-brick house with an angled church roof, the residence of Dr. Joseph Leidy; it later became the Poor Richard Club (1925-’80).

This one amazing intersection, with its clash of tradition and modernism, symbolizes for me the visual treats that await everywhere in Philadelphia. But the city’s architecture isn’t static. Philadelphia isn’t a waxworks museum, like too many of the historic districts of European cities, choked by tour buses. Philadelphia is a living, breathing organism whose buildings and streetscape are in constant creative flux.

Camille Paglia is the University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the
University of the Arts. She has written five books and is a columnist at Salon.com. E-MAIL: mail@phillymag.com